Co-creation. It’s a word you hear increasingly in the same context as focus groups, workshops or other qual methodologies as if it is simply an interchangeable term for any of those things. Here at Face, five years ago we started out as a co-creation agency, pioneering the approach of bringing consumers, clients and agencies together to solve problems for brands and categories. However, over those 5 years we have come to realise a fundamental truth about co-creation – that it is not a methodology, but an overarching philosophy that should guide everything you do as a company in order to generate compelling, game-changing insight, innovation and strategy.
For us, a co-creative approach permeates everything we do from project design, from recruitment to debrief, across every type of brief from qual insight to campaign tracking – it’s built into the heart of every methodology and tool we employ on a project. So I’m going to give you a little insight into our top tips for successfully co-creating, gleaned from our five years of experience.
Principle 1: Listen
Co-creation shouldn’t just be about creating, it should also be about listening – after all it is from great insight, foresight and inspiration that the best ideas will arise. We always begin every co-creation project by undertaking a stage of listening, whether that be:
- listening to the conversations going on around categories, brands or topics through social media monitoring
- deep-diving into the hubs and influencers of those conversations via netnography
- or listening to the behavioural “conversations” that happen between the consumer and the context via ethnography.
Principle 2: Mix individual and group thinking
We believe that neither of these things are enough on their own and that each has its role both in the generation of ideas and the refinement and honing of them.
Crowdsourcing, whether done openly on the web or closed with a specific fan base, through the process of individual (yet open and iterative) thinking yields a huge wealth of individual data that allows the researcher to spot trends and clusters that can provide both platforms for ideation or positioning and hypotheses about interesting directions.
However, in our experience, the most value from crowdsourcing comes when this is supplemented with more targeted exploration and explosion of the opportunities with a smaller number of invested participants. We often use our online communities such as HeadBox and Mindbubble to ratify and validate the opportunity areas identified from crowdsourcing, and make sure that the group that will ultimately develop concepts from those opportunities are working on the most interesting, fertile and well-developed of those areas.
Individual and group thinking of course also has to come into play within your actual “co-creation” – whether that be a face-to-face workshop or online. It’s really important to ensure that your task design includes a mix of both individual thinking tasks and more group-based collaboration in order to create the right balance of fertility and validity, as well as to allow for differences in the ways people think, create and process information.
Principle 3: Build effective teams
Managers know that there is a whole science behind building an effective team, and there is no shortage of academic models and theories to aid this. Building teams in co-creation is no different. While obviously conducting a full Belbin or Myers Briggs analysis before each co-creation is unrealistic, it is possible to use principles from both when building teams for co-creation. We build in Myers Briggs and Belbin-style questions into our recruitment process, and qualitatively evaluate consumers further through our interactions with them both in our communities, and in the co-creation “auditions” we hold that put our potential participants through their paces before they earn their place at the co-creation. Oh, and of course we’re also always qualitatively analysing our clients and their stakeholders for the same reasons.
Principle 4: Play
Creativity strikes when analysis stops and so co-creation should always be fun (so should any qual research, but that’s another blog post entirely). This permeates everything from where you do it (somewhere disruptive and creative of course), to how you set up and brief in the whole day.
At Face we use gamification principles such as badging, earning status levels, and unlocking rewards for completion of specific tasks to make the process feel less like work and more like play, to aid team bonding, and to establish a sense of competition that ultimately increases investment and therefore quality of output.
However, we also have a philosophy around the ratio of true “work” activities (those that are geared to meeting the objectives of the co-creation) and those that are more “play” activities geared towards breaking down inhibitions, improving communication, encouraging people to think in different ways, and re-energising. We think the best ratio is 60:40 – ice breakers, energisers, physical games are all an incredibly important part of running a successful co-creation.
Principle 5: Keep the pace
Pressure helps spontaneous thinking, while craft requires time, so successful co-creation involves flexing the pace both to keep interest and to get better output – whether co-creating online or face-to-face. We have found that the most successful co-creations set more aggressive deadlines for tasks that are more generative, require non judgmental thinking, or in fact require choices to be made within a group (even if you then allow more time to explore that choice later on), while those tasks that require refinement, articulation, or building up of ideas require both more time and a more relaxed introduction/facilitation style. This sounds obvious, but it’s really about pushing those boundaries a bit in terms of how long you think each exercise needs, depending on what the task in hand is.
Principle 6: Get creative
Our final principle governs the sorts of activities we do in co-creation to yield great results. Co-creation for us isn’t simply an extension of the traditional stimulus/response model of traditional research, except with clients in the room asking the questions. For us building a co-creation is itself an exercise in creation. We use various techniques from theatre and the arts to create an immersive and engaging creative experience that yields insight and ideas almost indirectly – role plays, story telling, consequences, real time illustration, and physical modelling are all techniques that can deliver incredible insight and stimulate ideas beyond the direct objective for which you are using them.
Co-creation is here to stay, and we look forward to continuing to find new and inspiring ways to deliver best in class results for our clients!